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By Martin Lamarque

Dear City Council: Smile, you are on camera!

Uploaded: May 13, 2014

The request brought tonight to the City Council to consider the adoption of a resolution, or introduction of an ordinance regarding the use of Automated License Plate Readers and Neighborhood Surveillance Cameras could not have come on a more appropriate day.

The United States of Secrets, a Frontline documentary aired today, yahoo story explores the misguided policies that incrementally led to the runaway surveillance activities we now live under. Surveillance activities that we can only suspect, because the programs and agencies administering them are so secretive, no public scrutiny is allowed.

On the surface, the proposal presented to the City Council seems to include legal guarantees to keep the product of the surveillance from becoming harassment tools against segments of the population, and to prevent the always present possibility for misuse of the gathered data by irresponsible police employees.

It concerns me that the Police Department is pushing for this to be adopted as a resolution, and not as an ordinance. Which would basically mean that if police employees were to violate the rules dictated by the agreement, under a resolution their punishment would not necessarily be a criminal penalty. Given the experience we had where a city police officer got caught with his pants down, a prostitute, in a motel, and during his working hours, the transgression still wasn't considered serious enough for that officer to lose his job, what would the incentive be to follow the rules around the gathering and use of the data?

As someone who lives in a neighborhood prone to violent crimes, I sometimes wonder whether a couple of surveillance cameras might in fact help alleviate this violence. So to some extent, I have been on board, even if with some doubts.

I would still support the deployment of a few cameras, but not only in Belle Haven. Since according to Chief Jonsen, the number of crimes are about equal on both sides of the freeway, it would follow that cameras should be installed on both sides of the city.

If authorized, the implementation of surveillance should be as an ordinance, to provide better teeth against abuse. And if after 1-2 years of use, the surveillance cameras do not make a noticeable dent in the crime rate, they should simply be removed.